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Cases of recreational water illnesses on the rise
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As summer approaches and swimming pools open, parents and swimmers should be aware of a hidden hazard referred to as recreational water illness.
RWI is spread by swallowing, breathing or coming in contact with germs in the water of swimming pools, spas, lakes, rivers or oceans. To highlight the importance of healthy swimming habits, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have designated May 19-25 as National Recreational Water Illness Prevention Week.
“The leading cause of RWI outbreaks is crypto, a chlorine-resistant parasite, primarily associated with treated swimming places, such as pools and water parks,” explained Michele Hlavsa, a CDC epidemiologist. “This RWI has been a public health issue in the past and will likely pose an even bigger challenge in the future.”
In 2007, RWI outbreaks peaked at an all-time high.
From 2004-2007, the number of crypto cases tripled. At the same time, the number of crypto outbreaks linked to swimming pools more than doubled. Because crypto is chlorine resistant, even a well-maintained pool can transmit this parasite.
“People need to practice healthy swimming habits, such as not swimming when they have diarrhea, not swallowing the water, taking a shower before swimming, washing their hands after using the toilet or changing diapers, and washing their children thoroughly, especially their bottoms, with soap and water before swimming. To prevent outbreaks, we encourage pool operators to add supplemental disinfection to conventional chlorination and filtration methods,” Hlavsa said.
Symptoms generally begin two to 10 days, usually an average of seven days, after becoming infected with the parasite.
Crypto is characterized by watery diarrhea lasting one to three weeks. It can be spread by swallowing recreational water contaminated with crypto or by putting something in your mouth or accidentally swallowing something that has come in contact with the stool of a person or infected animal. Other symptoms include stomach cramps or pain, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, fever and weight loss.
Crypto is not spread by contact with blood.
Some people with crypto will have no symptoms, and most people who have healthy immune systems will recover without treatment. People with weakened immune systems are at risk for severe or life-threatening illness.
RWIs are not limited to public facilities. Homeowners with pools should maintain their pools properly and add additional disinfectants as necessary. Pool owners should be knowledgeable on how to test their pool water.

For more information about crypto and healthy swimming, visit these helpful sites:
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